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The People of the Book: The Bible as God’s Love Letter

February 12, 2012
Sermon:  The People of the Book: The Bible as God’s Love Letter
Text:  Isaiah 55:6-11

 

I want you to turn with me to Isaiah 55, our Scripture for the day, as we continue our series of sermons on the Bible entitled The People of the Book.  Today we are considering “The Bible as God’s Love Letter.”  I begin reading at Verse 6.  Hear now the Word of God.

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
 
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

If I had been hit in the head with a hammer, I would not have been any more stunned or any more smitten than the first time I saw Clare in the cafeteria at Furman University.  I suppose it was love at first sight.  The very minute I saw her, I was absolutely captivated.  Scientists tell us that the human brain responds with chemical changes during this kind of experience.  We feel a sense of euphoria and infatuation.  It has something to do with neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine.  I certainly felt that sense of euphoria during a study break at mid-term exams.  I went to the cafeteria to get hot chocolate and donuts.  I found Clare.  Meeting her is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I want to ask all the husbands and boyfriends in the congregation to find a piece of paper and a pencil.  You can write on the Sermon Notes section in the bulletin and use a pencil from the pew.  Husbands and boyfriends, write down this sentence:  Tuesday is Valentine’s Day.  I am your friend and your pastor, and I do not want you to forget this really important date. 

Valentine’s Day, which is observed on February 14, is a celebration originating from an ancient custom.  In Roman mythology, the goddess of love and marriage was Juno.  In order to honor her, the Romans held a three-day party called Lupercalia in the middle in the month of February, which included the Feast Day of Juno on February 15.  This celebration was an ancient version of “The Dating Game.”  It is not surprising that a good bit of match-making occurred among the eligible young men and women – those who were of marriage age.  The feast was not like a Baptist feast in that a good bit of wine flowed there.  Over the course of the three days, couples paired up, with some falling in love.  The Romans had the idea that Juno’s counterpart, the lesser god Cupid, supposedly fluttered around carrying a bow and arrow.  If Cupid shot an individual with an arrow, the next person who saw his victim would fall in love with that individual.  I suppose the Romans would explain my encounter with Clare in the dining room at Furman University in those terms.

A young priest named Valentine was concerned about Christians who were being persecuted.  Against official orders, he visited and ministered to them in prison.  He also actually performed weddings for Christian couples, which was a violation of the rules of Rome.  Valentine was arrested and beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D., during the reign of the emperor Claudius.  The church later honored this martyr by giving him the name St. Valentine.

The romantic love we celebrate at this season of the year is similar to the love of Lupercalia.  The love we need to remember, however, is the love of Valentine.  This type of love goes beyond a romantic feeling.  It is the self-giving, sacrificial love the Apostle Paul described in I Corinthians 13 of the New Testament.  It is the kind of love that God has for us.

Over the years, I knew that my love for Clare – that initial euphoria, that initial infatuation – would grow and develop into something much deeper.  I loved hearing Clare’s voice.  I loved how she talked.  I loved reading her letters to me.  Boy, could she write a letter!  They had a profound impact on me, really helping in my falling in love with her.  They revealed her heart.  They provided me with great insight about the way she thought.  They assured me of her love for me.  That love has endured through the years.

Young people, you must remember that we had no cell phones, e-mail, or text messaging at that time.  We had to rely on the old-fashioned method of writing a letter by hand, addressing an envelope and affixing a stamp, and dropping it in a mailbox.  Two or three days passed before it reached the intended recipient.

During the first summer after we met, she returned to her home in New Orleans, and I returned to Spartanburg.  I received a letter from Clare almost every day.  She received one from me about once a week.  I saved all of her letters, and she saved mine.  Today, those love letters are in a locked box in our home.  Clare holds the key.

When I asked why she kept the letters, Clare explained, “Kirk, they are a treasure.  They describe what happened to us as we were falling in love.”

Communication is so important between Clare and me.  The life of prayer gives us the opportunity to communicate with God, to hear the voice of God.  Sometimes that communication is best expressed in silence.  It is not so much talking to God as it is being with God, being in the presence of God who loves us so much, who regards us as His beloved children.

The life of prayer is not all sweetness and light.  We read the Bible and find there something in addition to love notes:  reminders that our relationship to God is often marred, damaged, and flawed – not on God’s part but on our part.  We might even regard the life of prayer as a kind of lovers’ quarrel at times.  Sometimes in my own prayer life, it has been that way.

Isaiah says that the Word of God shows us His heart, His mercy, His desire to pardon our sins, His way of thinking.  We do not understand His thoughts completely, but we do understand them in part.  God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  His Word produces results:  “…my word will not return to me empty.  It will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.”

At a recent marriage enrichment retreat, the participants and I talked about what Jesus identified as the Great Commandment:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Luke 10:27).  You can apply those four ways of loving to husbands and wives in a Christian marriage.  “To love with all your heart” means to love emotionally.  It means that nothing is unspeakable.  “To love with all your soul” means that you share your personal faith with each other.  You pray together and worship together.  “To love with your mind” means that you regard each other as intellectual equals.  You both learn.  You both teach.  “To love each other with your strength” means that you love each other physically.

Those four ways of loving between a husband and wife might well be considered the bonds of matrimony, those strong bonds that hold a marriage together.  If those bonds are all present, the marriage is exactly what God intends it to be.  That kind of love goes far beyond the euphoric, romantic love.  That kind of love is a decision, an act of the will.

When a couple stands here at the altar and takes their marriage vows, I do not ask them, “Do you promise that you are always going to feel loving?”  No, the marriage vows basically say, “I have decided to love, whether I feel like it or not.  I have made a decision.  Love is an act of the will, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness or in health.  I am going to love you.”  Paul described this kind of committed love in I Corinthians 13:7-8, saying that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It is a love that never fails.”  God has that kind of love for us, and He desires us to have that same kind of love for Him.

I want to suggest to you that in a very real sense the Bible itself, the Word of God, is a love letter from God.  We can read it and see all though the pages little love notes, telling us how God loves us.  The Old Testament is filled with many love stories:  Abraham and Sarah have a love that endures; Isaac and Rebekah have a love that is in conflict so much of the time; Jacob and Rachel’s love struggles and grieves; Ruth and Boaz share a second love, love the second time around.  We also read a love story in the life of David, who fell in love with so many, among them Abigail and Bathsheba.  We see in the story of Hosea and Gomer a heart broken by unfaithfulness and betrayal.  The Song of Songs, a celebration of human love, may have been included in the Scriptures primarily because people interpreted it as an allegory.  It has been viewed as a love relationship between God and His people.  The New Testament also includes love stories.  The story of the prodigal son begins in anger and rebellion but ends with a merciful father receiving his son who has returned, embracing that son and restoring him with unconditional love.

I want to share with you a selection known as “The Father’s Love Letter,” which has been widely circulated.  I use it by permission.  Every thought, which many of you will recognize, includes a Scripture reference.  Listen as I read this love letter from God.

You are my beloved child.
You may not know me, but I know everything about you.
Psalm 139:1
 
I know when you sit down and when you rise up.
Psalm 139:2
 
I am familiar with all your ways.
Psalm 139:3
 
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
Matthew 10:29-31
 
For you were made in my image.
Genesis 1:27
 
In me you live and move and have your being.
Acts 17:28
 
For you are my offspring.
Acts 17:28
 
I knew you even before you were conceived.
Jeremiah 1:4-5
 
I chose you when I planned creation.
Ephesians 1:11-12
 
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book.
Psalm 139:15-16
 
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live.
Acts 17:26
 
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14
 
I knit you together in your mother’s womb.
Psalm 139:13
 
And brought you forth on the day you were born.
Psalm 71:6
 
I have been misrepresented by those who don’t know me.
John 8:41-44
 
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love.
1 John 4:16
 
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you.
1 John 3:1
 
Simply because you are my child
and I am your Father.
1 John 3:1
 
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.
Matthew 7:11
 
For I am the perfect father.
Matthew 5:48
 
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.
James 1:17
 
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs.
Matthew 6:31-33
 
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.
Jeremiah 29:11
 
Because I love you with an everlasting love.
Jeremiah 31:3
 
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore.
Psalms 139:17-18
 
And I rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17
 
I will never stop doing good to you.
Jeremiah 32:40
 
For you are my treasured possession.
Exodus 19:5
 
I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul.
Jeremiah 32:41
 
And I want to show you great and marvelous things.
Jeremiah 33:3
 
If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.
Deuteronomy 4:29
 
Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4
 
For it is I who gave you those desires.
Philippians 2:13
 
I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine.
Ephesians 3:20
 
For I am your greatest encourager.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
 
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
 
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you.
Psalm 34:18
 
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart.
Isaiah 40:11
 
One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
Revelation 21:3-4
 
And I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth.
Revelation 21:3-4
 
I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus.
John 17:23
 
For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.
John 17:26
 
He is the exact representation of my being.
Hebrews 1:3
 
He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you.
Romans 8:31
 
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
 
Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
 
His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you.
1 John 4:10
 
I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love.
Romans 8:31-32
 
If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me.
1 John 2:23
 
And nothing will ever separate you from my love again.
Romans 8:38-39
 
Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen.
Luke 15:7
 
I have always been Father, and will always be Father.
Ephesians 3:14-15
 
My question is…Will you be my child?
John 1:12-13
 
I am waiting for you.
Luke 15:11-32
 
Love, Your Father in Heaven

From the time we were little children, we sang about this love in a song you know, “Jesus Loves Me.”  Let’s sing it together a response to this love of God.

God is love.  “He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that if we simply believe in Him, we will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Do you believe that God’s love is for you?  We invite you to respond to the love of God clearly revealed in Jesus.  If you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, this is the time to make that decision.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2012

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